In this photo, Ann Dee, who died at 85 on March 22 of unspecified causes, looks like one of those “great broads” of yesterday and conjures up the music and hubbub inside the nightspot she owned in San Francisco back in the ’50s. It was at Ann’s 440 Club that the cabaret and supper-club singer gave young comedians and vocalists early exposure, including Lenny Bruce, Charles Pierce, and 19-year-old Johnny Mathis, who was spotted there by a Capitol Records exec. Though Dee’s own career was hampered by throat problems, a critic from the LA Times described her, in 1973, as “a sophisticated singer with a big, belting voice,” and called her rendition of “Send in the Clowns” an example of “pure class.” That’s what we learn about Ms Dee from the LA Times. But a story in Frontiers from 2001 (via findarticles.com) has more to say about the scene in her little San Francisco club.
By 1945, Mona’s had become notorious for its “offbeat” and “colorful” entertainment, but it was not the only lesbian club in San Francisco’s North Beach. There were also the Paper Doll, the Artist’s Club, the Beaded Bag, the Candlelight, Blanco’s, the Chi-Chi Club, the Beige Room, and Tommy’s 299. Through the 1950s, even more lesbian nightspots opened, including Tommy’s Place, the 12 Adler, Ann’s 440, Miss Smith’s Tea Room, the Tin Angel, the Copper Lantern, the Anxious Asp, the Front, and the Our Club. All of these clubs opened on or near Broadway in the heart of San Francisco’s tourist district and, while they were not all open at the same time, in the post-World War II years, there were always at least four and up to seven bars or nightclubs that lesbians frequented within a couple blocks of each other.